Behind the Microphone – Damian Lawlor

 

They bring us most of the magical moments we enjoy in sport through the commentary and analysis. Their personalities and the words they choose so often become a central part of our national memory around the truly defining moments in sport but they are there for the quieter days as well, telling the story of sport.

In our Sport for Business series ‘Behind the Microphone’ we meet with the individuals in the media who bring sporting stories to life on television and radio.

In the first of our Summer 2019 collection of media personalities, we meet Damian Lawlor who has moved across all forms of media and is most familiar to us today as the Sideline reporter and occasional anchor for Sky Sports GAA coverage and a regular contributor on RTÉ Radio.

How did you get a start behind the microphone?

I knew I wanted to be a journalist from the age of 15 at Nenagh CBS.  Vincent Hogan and John O’Brien had gone before me and the author Donal Ryan was coming up behind so there was a rich tradition of writing.

I did transition year and got work experience with the Nenagh Guardian.  Gerry Slevin interviewed me as part of that and was a huge influence on my career.  He’d always give me enough of a thread through learning and the next job.  It was never paid but the experience and the subtle advice was invaluable.

I got an A in English but the rest of my Leaving wasn’t great so I repeated but it still wasn’t enough to get into journalism so I went and did a marketing degree in Carlow IT instead.

All the time I had a course at NUI Galway in mind it was an HDip course in Journalism, that then became a Masters, but there were only 16 that got on each year.  You had to have a primary honours degree but I applied the year before I could, just to make an impression.

Bernadette O’Sullivan ran the course and she remembered me when I applied the second year. I had the right level of a portfolio of work built up through radio, print and all sorts of scrapbooks of work so I got on the course and that was the next step in academic terms to get me on the road.

Was it easy then after that to get work?

Ah, there were lots of disappointments.  I got turned down for full-time jobs but I always kept the letters turning me down.

My Dad was great at keeping my spirits up.  he’d always throw me the keys of the car and tell me to get out to another match and keep plugging away.

In March of my time in Galway, I was offered a job at the Evening Echo.  I kept up the course though at the same time.

It was a mix of news, politics and sport.  There was always news if you were willing to go and look for it.  I was writing bits for the Arena that Tony Leen was producing for the Examiner as well.

Kieran Shannon was working there and then moved up to the Sunday independent.  he rang me one day and asked how it was going.  I said great but I’d love to do a bit more in sport and he said that Kieran Cunningham who was Sports Editor at the Star was looking for someone at the time.

I did a week’s trial and after three days Gerry Regan came over and told me I had a job.  After a couple of years, I became the GAA correspondent alongside Cian Murphy who’s in the GAA now and they were the best years of my life.

I did all sorts as well.  I was out in Nigeria with Brian Kerr and learnt so much.

I spent my time going around with my eyes open and my jaw open half the time.

So you had a print background how did the move to broadcast come about?

As a journalist, you’d be asked to do plenty on TV3 tonight and with RTÉ Radio.  I was also writing Liam Dunne’s book and that led to being asked to work with the Sunday Independent.

The transition from a Daily when I’d be writing eight or nine pieces every day to a Sunday when the level of work was far more focused, was very different.

I had more time and began looking to do more things in broadcast.

Colly Stafford from Setanta Sport asked me in to do a Christmas special and then I’d do some of the games they had in the Allianz League which was a great experience.

I made a lot of mistakes but I always learned along the way.  Floods of rain, floodlight failures but always learning.

RTÉ and Loosehorse productions asked me would I do a show with them called Take Your Point and I did that then for two years so all along I was building up experience.

During that time as well I had spoken to Ciaran O’Hara who’d been working on TV3 and was a good lad.  I thought that maybe one day we might do a podcast together.

A year later Sky won the rights to the GAA and Ciaran went with them as a producer.

They had a journalist on board doing sideline interviews called Orla Chennaoui.  She couldn’t make the first two weeks so Ciaran asked me to step in.  The first game was Kilkenny against Offaly.  I’ve never been so nervous interviewing Brian Cody.

Anyway, Orla came back and did two weeks but then after that, for whatever reason and Orla’s doing great now with Eurosport on cycling, they asked me to do it each week and here I am.

I’ve done 10 or 12 shows now fronting GAA Now’s coverage and have learnt a lot in the studio there.  eir Sport keeps coming back for me and I love every second of it.

People aren’t really there to watch you so you just do what you can and hope not to make too many mistakes.

What’s been the highlight so far?

I’d say writing a book after spending a season with the Waterford footballers back in 2009.  They were the lowest ranked team in Ireland but the human stories were incredible.  A young lad called Paul Ogle postponed an operation to remove a tumour to play a League match against Cavan.  That’s incredible stuff.

Who’d be a role model in terms of people you’d look up to?

There’s been so many that have helped and inspired me along the way.  Bill O’Herlihy was great spending time with me at an early stage but if I had to pick one from the many I’ve seen and worked with it would be Sean O’Rourke.

If you had one sporting event above all that you’d like to work at, what would it be?

Out of all of them, it would still be the Munster Hurling Final.  Huge crowd, massive atmosphere and everybody there for the right reasons.  Brilliant.

What would your Social media of choice be?

I come from a generation that didn’t grow up with it.  I’m on twitter and it’s a brilliant place to keep up with breaking news but it can be a bit disheartening.  I actually like Linked In where you can share and learn from people to help you do things better.

I went back to DCU last year to do a Masters in Strategic Communications and I learnt an awful lot there about social media as well.  It’s a great tool to use but you can’t rely on just the one.

What’s the screen saver on your phone?

My wife and three kids.  And the kids are all looking happily at each other!

And finally, what do you spend time doing when you’re away from the camera?

It’s always sport, to be honest.  I’m down with the kids training in Camogie, football and hurling.  I was with the Tipp U20’s last year as well and that was great.  Holidays with the family and dropping down home to Dad in Tipp is special as well.


Image Credit: Oisin Keniry, Inpho.ie